There’s been a lot of heat on the Vancouver Aquarium recently, with the “animals in captivity” debate once again making its way back to the forefront of public opinion thanks largely in part to the release of Blackfish (2013) — the critically acclaimed documentary by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite that deals primarily with the captivity of killer whales, and an intense scrutiny of institutions like Seaworld. Many people who saw this film had an immediate negative reaction, and are now condemning all captivity of sea creatures with a blanketed, all-encompassing distaste for the practice, and little regard for the individual circumstances that change from one institution to another. Not to mention it’s not 1996 anymore, and things have changed since much of the footage used in this film.
The Vancouver Aquarium is one such place that has become entangled in this net of criticism. Recently, a Change.org petition was launched, calling for a referendum regarding the addition of more captive cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. In the online description, petitioner Marcie Callewaert of Victoria, BC claims: “These animals are suffering in captivity for one reason only, profits. There is no educational or scientific value to the Aquarium’s whale and dolphin display.” However, today the Vancouver Aqaurium has answered back with this video message, to try and dispel some of these claims.
I saw Blackfish, and yes, I too felt shame and sadness, especially since I didn’t even know that some of the worst practices had happened right here in BC at Victoria’s now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific, but I’ve also learned over the years the value of media literacy and the skills to dig deeper into a topic past my gut-reaction. It also happens that I was fortunate enough to see the other side of the public outcry, having, on a few occasions, the chance to get an inside look at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Last summer, a friend of mine was working there rehabilitating seals and porpoises, so not only did I hear and learn all about the passion, care and dedication that drives this program, I visited the site on a couple of occasions and witnessed the beyond-ethical treatment of these animals first-hand. I even had the chance to meet Levi, seen in the above video being released back into the wild last summer.
Granted, the issue of keeping animals in captivity is a complex and emotionally-volatile topic, and perhaps one that has no right or wrong answer, but it’s important that with debates like this, people get all the facts before making an informed decision about their position. I support the idea of a referendum, and giving citizens a chance to decide what they care about, but I don’t necessarily support language and/or accusations that are used too heavily to sway opinions.
— Dan Post
What do you think? Is there enough information out there to make a well-rounded decision about the Vancouver Aquarium? Do you think people let documentary films and other media commandeer their emotions and override the need to do real research into a topic? Let us know in the comments section below.